More and more B2B businesses are selling their wares online, but B2B ecommerce continues to lag B2C ecommerce.

According to Sana Commerce’s B2B Buying Process 2019 report, which polled 560 buyers who purchase from manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors, buyers now purchase on average 75% of their products online. But less than a fifth of B2B buyers are purchasing 90% or more of their products online even though nearly a third (30%) would prefer to do so. The reason: many vendors are failing to meet their’ needs.

In many cases, this is forcing buyers to make purchases through email, a channel that, while functional, offers far more limited potential for automation that can improve buyer experience and increase efficiency.

Just how bad is the problem? On a global basis, 41% of the B2B buyers Sana polled indicated that email was their most important buying channel. Twenty eight percent said ecommerce was their most important buying channel — not that far ahead of phone, which 25% of buyers selected as their most important buying channel.

So why are B2B buyers making purchases through email and even phone in 2019, or to put it more bluntly, why isn’t ecommerce dominating B2B purchasing?

Sana’s report suggests a number of areas in which B2B vendors are often coming up short.

The importance of customer experience

The fact that a quarter of B2B buyers said they “want easier and faster checkout, easy repeat ordering, quicker delivery and improved tracking” suggests that a still sizable percentage of B2B vendors aren’t offering an optimized buying experience like the ones that consumers have come to expect from B2C.

Here, it’s important for B2B vendors to keep in mind the powerful trend of consumerization: the individuals who work as buyers are also consumers and the experiences they have purchasing from B2C companies like Amazon when they’re off the job realistically shape their expectations for making B2B purchases when they are on the job.

As such, it’s no surprise that large percentages of B2B buyers expect things like quick delivery, detailed order tracking, better product descriptions, and a large selection of products to choose from. Most of these, of course, are basic requirements in the B2C space; retailers simply can’t survive if they’re not
competitive enough in these areas.

Unfortunately, delivering a better customer experience online isn’t always straightforward for B2B vendors. Specifically, many have to deal with a higher level of order complexity that is virtually unheard of in the B2C market.

For example, many B2B vendors don’t simply sell widgets at the same price to of their customers.

Instead, they negotiate prices and one buyer might pay more or less than another. Other aspects of a transaction, such as payment terms, also often vary from customer-to-customer.

This type of complexity might partially explain why 44% of buyers Sana surveyed indicated that they experience online order errors with their top 10 vendors at least every other week. Among the most common errors: incorrect product selection, purchase entry and pricing.

While it’s of course possible to address complex scenarios in ecommerce software, complexity can increase the costs of building and maintaining an online experience that is streamlined and error-free.

Some small and medium-sized vendors might not want or be able to bear these costs.

But the costs of not giving buyers what they expect online look to be far, far greater. Over a third of buyers say that they could be convinced to make a purchase from a vendor if the vendor offers the ability to place, pay for, track and return orders online.

Given the fact there’s still a sizable gap between the frequency at which buyers make purchases online and the frequency at which they would like to, it’s clear there’s a huge opportunity for vendors that invest in creating great online purchasing experiences and a huge risk for vendors that don’t.